IEP Transition Goals for High School and Transition Students

special education teachers teacher experience transition Mar 11, 2024
Writing IEP Transition Goals

I had the pleasure of supporting a family friend as they prepared for an upcoming IEP meeting a few months back. After sharing some feedback about the IEP draft, I reviewed some lingo they may hear from school staff during the meeting, explained what it meant, and then walked them through the general flow of an IEP meeting, as they were still newer to the entire IEP process.

While their student isn’t old enough for a transition plan, it got me thinking about what a parent or family member might want to know about as they prepare for an upcoming IEP meeting where the IEP transition plan will be part of the conversation.


What is a Transition Plan or Transition IEP?

The Transition IEP or Transition Plan is a section of the IEP that becomes part of the overall IEP once the student is in middle school or high school. The transition plan becomes a part of a student's IEP at 16 years of age, per IDEA law, or earlier for some states, like Illinois.

The term 'transition' means to prepare for the time between the end of special education services, which may be the end of high school or 22 years of age (or older, for some states like Michigan), and the beginning of 'adult life.'  Since the student receives support through the school system (i.e. special education services), then they may need assistance as they begin to prepare and make the shift to life as a young adult.

Transition IEPs are written for all students who qualify for special education services, not just those with certain disabilities, like intellectual disabilities, or specific eligibility.

A transition plan is updated on an annual basis. As the student grows, learns, and matures, the document will be edited and updated to reflect their new needs and wants. Meaning, that a transition plan written for older high school students, such as juniors and seniors or those preparing to age out of services should be more specific, because they are inching closer to the time in which they will transition, than one written for younger early high school or middle school students.

One key section of the IEP Transition Plan is the Transition Outcomes or Post-Secondary Goals (they mean the same thing). An outcome or goal is a statement that describes the dream or hope the student has for a particular part of their life after they leave the school system. There will be an outcome for each of the transition pillars, Independent Living, Education, Training, and Employment.

The transition outcomes or goal statement will begin with an achievement marker, such as 'upon graduating from high school....' or 'upon exit from special education services...'. This is how the student's dreams are articulated.

For example:

8th Grade Transition Outcome/Post-Secondary Goal:
Upon graduation from high school, Student will enroll in college and major in a field of interest.


Senior Transition Outcome/Post-Secondary Goal:
Upon graduation, Student will be accepted into college and enroll in courses to study mechanical engineering. (<<<see how that is more specific)


These outcomes or goals are important because the rest of the transition plan is basically a backward plan for how those goals will be achieved. Therefore, a key part of the transition planning process is developing outcomes that best describe the student’s long-term dreams.

Transition outcomes or goals are developed by collecting feedback from a variety of individuals. This often looks like the student’s special education teacher or case manager sending home or emailing one or more age-appropriate transition assessments for family members, the student, and even other school staff, like related service providers, to complete.

The purpose of those transition assessments is to gather feedback from all stakeholders to develop a deep understanding of the student's dreams and goals for life and the skills and supports necessary to achieve those goals from those who know and work with the student the most. Therefore, the most important thing about ensuring that IEP transition goals and plans best support the individual is providing honest and realistic feedback on transition assessments as that feedback makes the cement that creates the pillars of support to meet the unique needs of each individual student.

Each transition independent living, education and/or training, and employment outcome or goal will have a corresponding IEP goal. A corresponding goal is an identified IEP goal that directly relates to helping the student achieve a transition outcome.

For example:

Senior Transition Outcome/Post-Secondary Goal:
Upon graduation, Student will be accepted into college and enroll in courses to study mechanical engineering.


IEP Annual Goal #4:
By December 2025, with support Student will identify a minimum of six colleges with mechanical engineering programs, review options for preferred location and tuition assistance, and complete and submit application paperwork to three colleges.


Goals may read more functional (but not always) as opposed to achieving specific academic skills, like increasing reading fluency or math calculation (see examples below). For comparison, transition plans and the goals specifically written to meet those needs are the whole Thanksgiving meal and the reading fluency and math calculation-type academic goals are the ingredients. This is because transition plans address the 'what is needed' to support the achievement of long-term goals and academic skills look specifically at the hard skills.

While states have their paperwork format, unique titles, and different requirements, other sections of the IEP transition plan include Linkages, which are the adult services or community organizations that are available to meet student needs and may be accessed by the student or family after school supports end; and Courses of Study, which is a tentative plan for future class schedules to ensure the student is enrolled in classes that will help them to achieve their transition outcomes.

Since the transition plan includes input from the student, they should be invited to their IEP meeting from this point forward, per IDEA law.  For schools lucky enough to have a transition specialist, they may also begin to attend the IEP meeting to support the student and family in achieving the transition goals.


For more support writing IEP Transition Plans, read How to Write an IEP Transition Plan.  




What are IEP Transition Goals?

Transition IEP Goals are specific goals written to address the skills needed to achieve the student's postsecondary goals or outcomes identified in the transition plan. This goes without saying that all IEP goals should be written using the SMART goal formula.

Post-secondary goals to address independent living, education, employment, and training outcomes are included in the IEP’s list of annual goals. These goals are addressed (or worked on) within the transition services provided by special education services, the school system (like a college tour of the local community college available to all juniors or seniors at the school), or through transition programming, for young adults who have earned all their high school graduation credits.

IEP goals are written to meet the student’s needs and there may be overlap between goals to address their weaknesses due to their disability (i.e. a goal to address physical stamina for a student with cerebral palsy) and the student’s transition. Secondary transition planning might include some IEP team members, such as related services providers and special education teachers, coming together to collaborate on annual IEP goals to meaningfully address the various needs to achieve the student's dreams. Therefore, a single IEP goal may include a Transition tag (i.e. Transition: Training, Employment) if the skills addressed within that goal would support the student in achieving their transition outcomes. Only appropriate IEP goals that address both areas will have a Transition tag.

A transition tag may look like this:

Senior Transition Outcome/Post-Secondary Goal:
Upon graduation, Student will be accepted into college and enroll in courses to study mechanical engineering.


IEP Annual Goal #4:
By December 2025, with support Student will identify a minimum of six colleges with mechanical engineering programs, review options for preferred location and tuition assistance, and complete and submit application paperwork to three colleges.

Goal Area- Functional, Transition (Education) <<<That’s the transition tag!


The following are a few examples of transition goals for each of the four transition areas. Since each student’s transition outcomes/post-secondary goals vary greatly, additional transition skills can be found in the IEP Transition Skills Goal Bank.

Examples of Transition Goals

Independent Living Skills

  • Prepare and clean up (or store in an appropriate location) a sack lunch or simple snack

  • Manage a schedule/time to arrive at a specific location at a pre-determined time to reduce tardiness

  • Use a debit card and follow the debit card machine prompts to complete a purchase

  • Check balance and digitally reload public transit fare card without overdrawing account to create adequate funds to ensure ridership

  • Perform a general internet search to locate a business’s address, hours of operation, website, or phone number




Education Skills

  • Self-identify a lack of understanding of a concept and seek assistance to support learning and comprehension
  • Utilize assistive technology to aid in increased reading comprehension or written expression
  • Break down large assignments into smaller parts and determine personal due dates to complete and submit large projects by pre-determined deadline
  • Identify jobs available with a certificate or degree beyond the desired career
  • Set up a student account/profile with the student disability services office to receive appropriate accommodations


Training Skills

  • Increase awareness of training opportunities (i.e. apprenticeship, on-the-job, military, entrepreneurship, etc)
  • Increase self-advocacy skills with coworkers or managers to support task completion or accuracy
  • Utilize assistive technology to remain on-task for a sustained period of time
  • Place an item according to directional instructions (above, below, to the right, to the left, behind, etc.)
  • Strengthen preferred career-specific vocational skills (i.e. data entry or plant care) to prepare for future career of interest


Employment Skills

  • Identify entry-level jobs of interest to prepare for future skilled career
  • Request someone repeat or clarify a question or expectation to increase comprehension and communication skills with unfamiliar communication partners
  • Identify nearby public transportation routes and locate schedules to determine the best pick-up time and location to arrive at the destination on time
  • Increase workplace behavior (task initiation or prioritization) to meet manager’s expectations
  • Welcome and accept constructive feedback and use it to improve future performance


The above examples are a VERY short list of options for functional goals.
A comprehensive list of over 900+ Transition Skills can be found
in the Transition Skills IEP Goal Bank.


Families and educators alike want to ensure a successful transition from school to adult life and creating an IEP with appropriate transition goals that address the unique needs of the individual student can help to accomplish that goal.




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